In the foreground, in green and yellow, is Bulbine frutescens, a mostly southern African genus. In the background, in pink, is Penstemon parryi, a member of the Figwort family. A close-up of the Penstemon is below.
“Xeriscaping” is a fancy way to say “selecting plants for drought tolerance,” or in other words, trying to put in a garden in the desert.
Here is my very own Guide to Xeriscaping in the Sonoran Desert:
Pick axe (or jack hammer, if you are wealthy, in which case you wouldn’t be doing this yourself)
Shovel that can double as a weapon
Tweezers and lighted magnifying mirror
1. Remove all those bizarre “huts” in your backyard. These are pack rat middens (huge houses built by the ubiquitous pack rats, made up of dead vegetation (especially old prickly pear pads), construction trash, balls of aluminum foil (they love shiny things), and any other detritus they manage to accumulate. These large structures look like beaver dams. They usually have a door, through which the rats go in and out and so do the snakes, looking for supper. Start shoveling.
3. Take a break: go into your house, set up the lighted magnifying mirror, get your tweezers, and start pulling out all the glochids (clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines that you don’t pay attention to because you’re too worried about the more visible huge spikes all over the pads).
4. Go back outside and start digging your hole. Hah hah! You thought there might be dirt to shovel! Surprise. We’ve got rocks, we’ve got gneiss, but we don’t have much dirt. (Gneiss is pronounced like “nice” except it doesn’t live up to the pronunciation. It’s a form of rock that will break up with enough encouragement.)
Watering the rocks will help somewhat to pry them out, but not totally. Get out the pick axe, crowbar and other tools: it’s hammer time!
5. Take a break: go into the house, and take Ibuprofin.
6. Keep your shovel/weapon handy as you prepare the hole. We don’t have any earthworms (because we don’t have much earth!) but there are still plenty of creatures in that ground. Lizards will come scurrying out (harmless, but they’ll still scare the &*%$ out of you when they unexpectedly bound out from under a rock), scorpions, wolf spiders, and big mouse-sized tarantulas (they’re too big to scurry; they just sort of “lumber” out).
7. Take a break: give up for the day, and come back the next day. It usually takes me at least three days to prepare a hole for one dinky plant.
“A newly discovered ant from the Amazon rainforest is so strange that researchers have named it “the ant from Mars.” Found in Brazil, the ant has a pale body and no eyes, says [lead researcher] Christian Rabeling…. Its mouthparts stick out like sharp forceps and are longer than the rest of its head. Its DNA may be even more interesting. Genetic analysis puts the new ant so far from other species that it deserves its own subfamily” [Science News].
Personally, to me it calls to mind not Mars, but New Crobuzon, the noir dystopia created by author China Mieville.